I was never much of a Facebook guy until we started using the platform to host our TMN member group. Now I visit our own page at least once a day, and spend some time on other tax and accounting group sites as well. It's enough to make me want to pull my hair out. Maybe the newbs just have more time to spend on Facebook.
There are two kinds of posts that just drive me nuts. The first is when someone asks (in perfectly good faith, of course) "how much would you charge for such-and-such service?" I'm usually happy to weigh in by pointing out that it's more valuable to ask "how do you come up with a fee" than "what's the dollar amount you'd charge." But the amount of nonsense I see in those replies is staggering — especially when folks start throwing out their hourly rates, as if hourly rates are a measure of anything other than self-confidence and backwards thinking in 2020. (Spoiler alert: that's exactly what they are.)
The answers usually reveal a strong strain of scarcity mindset, too. I swear, if our country ever established a Strategic Scarcity Mindset Reserve (the pessimist's version of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve), accountants would lead the charge in filling it.
The second category, which I see even more often, is the tax practice version of those "Can This Marriage Be Saved" columns that used to appear in Ladies Home Journal. (With a name like that, I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did — they were still publishing up until four years ago!) The posts invariably start with a paragraph or two complaining about "my client from hell," who doesn't want to use QBO, or doesn't want to get their books ready in time, or respect the front-desk staff, or do something that all the rest of us would assume is a basic prerequisite for getting in the front door. And then the member asks, "what should I do?"
The person posting the question usually wants the rest of us to pull a rabbit out of a hat and figure out how to keep the client without calling them on their BS. (Sometimes they post because they think the client needs to go, but just want a second opinion.) Usually around half of the people responding try to be gentle and diplomatic, with suggestions to help smooth over the conflict, or motivate the client to behave better. The other half give the objectively correct answer, which is always — always — always to fire the client and walk away. (Sometimes it's a polite farewell. Sometimes it's a more forceful brushoff. Sometimes it's like when my college friend wanted to quit his job at McDonalds with a bang — so he recreated his favorite scene from Soylent Green and ran into the store crying "They're peeeeeople!!! Big Macs are PEOPLE!!!!!)
What bothers me is how so many tax business owners have such lousy boundaries and put up with such abuse. Rude clients. Cheap clients. Entitled, arrogant, obnoxious clients. Downright toxic people — a mosaic of bad behavior spanning every personality disorder imaginable.
Why would you think you have to keep these clients? If you're like a lot of TMN members, you do 500, 1,000, or 2000 returns a year or more. You've diversified your income! You can afford to lose the revenue! And while it's hard to quantify "pride," isn't there real and tangible value in not having to dread the calls and waste the time that these toxic relationships involve?
We once had a member here at TMN who must have thought he deserved more than everyone else. But when the second person in our office told me she ignored the phone when she saw his office phone number pop up on Caller ID, I knew where the problem lay — and exactly how to solve it. I asked both of them, "do we need to fire this guy?" They both said "please." And so we sent back $3000 in deposits we had taken for him and a colleague to attend the next Green Light Academy and wished him good luck in his future endeavors. One of his colleagues emailed me and said "hey, can we still be members, but you deal with me instead of [redacted]?" I made the business decision that it just wasn't going to be worth the effort to give his people a second chance when I could start fresh with someone with a blank slate.
Do you have boundary problems with clients? It's ok if you do — none of us took any classes in "setting and enforcing personal and professional boundaries" in school. Here are three ideas to get started with.
- Give yourself permission to say "no." As TMN member Sean O'Hare so memorably said at a roundtable meeting in Orange County (back when we could still host those sorts of things), "just because someone needs a tax return done doesn't mean I need to do it."
- Identify your limits. What are you willing to accept in terms of, say, missed deadlines, messy books, and general playing by the rules. Then communicate those rules, in writing, to your prospects and clients! If you're the type of person who shies away from conflict, it'll be MUCH easier to push back if you have a written policy to point to.
- Start small! Rome wasn't sacked in a day, and you won't be able to break down the bad habits that lead to poor boundaries in a day, either.
In the end, enforcing boundaries works for everyone. You'll respect yourself more, and the clients who make your cut will, too. All you have to lose are your headaches. Hell, if you're feeling ambitious, pick someone to fire today — and report back with an email telling me how you felt when it was over!